So, an apology to Malala Yousafzai; it seems the people of Pakistan took an earlier column of mine entirely too much to heart. In October, I wrote that the pint-sized social justice warrior was becoming… well, a bit of a bore. And now look what’s happened: Pakistan is having a full scale Malala revolt, with “I Am Not Malala Day” becoming something of a national phenomenon.
So why am I apologising, when I find the spectacle of a little girl, dolled up in ethnic garb for Western audiences and parroting talking points drafted by her UN official dad, achingly tiresome? Because the Muslim hardliners proclaiming their disdain for Yousafzai are just as vomit-inducing, frankly.
“We are all for education and women’s empowerment,” lied Mirza Kashif Ali, president of the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation and organiser of I Am Not Malala Day, to the Times. But then she went on to say: “The West has created this persona who is against the Constitution and Islamic ideology of Pakistan.”
I’m not the only one who felt a shiver down my back at that statement, I’m sure. That wouldn’t be the same Islamic ideology that shot little Malala in the head, would it?
Malala Yousafzai divides opinion in Pakistan, to put it mildly. Just 30 per cent of Pakistanis say they support her, according to the Independent, while a fifth actively dislike her. Half said they felt indifferent, which, considering she’s a girl whose only crime has been to ask for better schooling for girls, isn’t a statistic to be comfortable with.
And it’s easy to understand why: although Pakistan often scores well, relatively speaking, in surveys about Islamic extremism (“only” 17 per cent of the population believe terrorist attacks on civilian populations are sometimes justified), the country remains stultifying in its social conservatism, especially in rural areas.
Its rural population also holds almost uniformly hostile views about “the West”, despite what you read in the Guardian, which goes some way to explaining how Malala’s co-option by the liberal Establishment in Europe and the United States is sometimes interpreted as a betrayal of her roots back home.
But it’s not just America-hating that fuels scepticism about Malala: the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation’s stated reason for banning the teenage advocate’s memoir in Pakistan was, in their words, because it “offends Islam”. It’s tough to interpret that charitably.
I’d be more comfortable if Malala was, in fact, what these goons thinks she is: a liberated young woman who has thrown off the shackles of the sick and barbaric culture that tried to kill her and embraced the freedom and democratic values of the West. As I said in my earlier column, what would really cheese them off is seeing her in a backcombed hairdo, six-inch heels and a couture gown.
But she isn’t: she’s a puppet of bien pensant liberals, a weird confection of bore and attention-seeker, banging on about drone strikes and announcing her support for Salman Rushdie while rocking up on stage in the uniform of her oppressors, to coos of appreciation from metropolitan liberals who love how “brave” and, dare I say it, “exotic” she is. In other words: Ayaan Hirsi Ali she ain’t.
There are no winners in all of this. Either we side with puritanical Islamists whose stated position seems to be that educating women “offends Islam”—or we offer support to a vacuous and odd media-driven concatenation of UN platitudes and human interest in the form of a little girl whom I wish would just get a smartphone and a boyfriend and start enjoying her teenage years, before it’s too late and she becomes an international megabore and public liability, like Vandana Shiva, Aung San Suu Kyi or Britain’s own Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.
I’m not holding my breath.